WAXAHACHIE, Texas (AP) — The brooms they straddled were motley, a ragtag assemblage of kitchen brooms, push brooms, angle brooms, long sticks with streamers or thistles taped to one end.
In shirts of blue, green, yellow or red, players took the field under the lights, ready for battle.
While other high schools practiced the weekly religion that is football, the stands here at Waxahachie's Global High were peppered with fans cheering on teams with names like Hufflepuff and Gryffindor.
Before long, the teams would be running all over the field, playing a game that has gone from fantasy to reality.
Conceived in the pages of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Quidditch is catching on among students around the world, never mind that their brooms can't fly like those of the books' wizards-in-training.
"Quidditch is by far the best thing that has ever happened to Global High," said senior Emma Bauman, the 18-year-old captain of the Slytherin squad. "The stands are getting fuller and fuller each time."
With four balls flying around the field simultaneously, the game can be difficult to interpret at first.
Players from each team battle for a white ball, called a "Quaffle," and try to score by tossing it through one of three hoops in the opposite end zone — all while being pelted with the red dodge balls, or Bludgers, by opposing players.
Keep in mind that this is all done while players are holding a broomstick between their legs.
"The balls are all deflated so you can grab them with one hand," explained senior Brittany Wachsmann, who founded the club. "You can't grab the ball with two hands, as you would fall off your broom."
On the sidelines, each team's "Seeker" waits blindfolded while a student called a "Snitch runner" hides somewhere out of sight.
At the 10-minute mark, the Seekers hunt down the runner, trying to grab the Snitch — basically a tennis ball in a sock — from the runner's waistband, earning bonus points and ending the game.
There's a lot going on. "It's a little bit basketball, a little bit soccer and a lot of rugby," Bauman said.
Wachsmann was encouraged by the game's rising popularity at universities like Harvard, Yale, NYU and a number of Texas schools including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State and Baylor.
Though only a few Texas high schools have picked up the game, two of them — Montgomery County's Caney Creek and Tarrant County's Keller — launched a petition drive aiming to persuade the University Interscholastic League to officially endorse the game, so far to no avail.
Nonetheless, Wachsmann sees only promise.
"Football has always been around," she said. "But Quidditch is coming."
After getting Spanish teacher Cherie Timmes to sponsor the club, she and about 40 Global students divided themselves into four "houses" echoing those in Rowling's series — Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.
At the club's first match, a few students in the stands donned robes like those worn at Harry Potter's Hogwarts School. Not that that was unusual.
"It's become part of the culture because the kids have read it," said principal Don Snook. "They start speaking in Harry Potter-ish terms when they're here at school, and they all understand each other."
Global is a so-called STEM school, focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Students can earn college credits with extra classes and graduate with an associate's degree.
With no real sports program to speak of, students come to the school focused on academics. They've gotten used to their brainiac reputation, or others thinking of them as nerdy or elitist.
"People can think what they think," said junior Jane Almond. "We're just like a big giant family. Once you're in, you're in."
Wachsmann's parents have supported their daughter's crusade. Her father, Neil, who built the hoops posted at either side of the 491/2-yard field, is also the head referee.
Her mom, Delilah, makes the "butterbeer" — a broth of warmed cream soda, brown sugar, butter and whipped cream — sold in Styrofoam cups at each match.
The night of the club's most recent game was frigid, and in the cold metal bleachers, some proudly noted their choice to wear long underwear. Blanketed families snacked on take-out burgers and cookies as a trio of young girls cheered from the front row: "Ravenclaw! Ravenclaw!"
At the concessions table, next to the butterbeer and hot dogs, Catalina Guerra took orders for scarves and hats crocheted in each of the team colors.
Jeffrey Trojacek approached the table and handed Guerra a $100 bill.
"Two Hufflepuff," he said, pointing at the yellow sets. With him was daughter Adeline, 8, engulfed in a black hoodie reading "Go Hufflepuff!"
Trojacek's 14-year-old daughter, Annie, was on the field playing keeper, or goalie, for the Hufflepuff team. After attending a couple of tournaments, Trojacek was starting to get the hang of the game.
"Annie really loves it," he said.
Guerra's son, 14-year-old freshman Giovanni Prieto, also plays the game. "It's really quite a bit of exercise," she said. "It keeps them active."
For a school with no real athletic program, that's a real bonus.
"Anything that gets kids up and moving and excited, I'm all for," Snook said.
From their lofty perch, the student announcers blurted commentary:
Slytherin immediately snatches the Quaffle, attempting to make their way toward Ravenclaw's hoop!
And a nice block by Ravenclaw's keeper!
We're seeing some nice passing from our Hufflepuffs! They're much improved over the last few games!
And then: The Snitch has been released! With that, the two Seekers peeled off their blindfolds and set out in search of the furtive Snitch runner, who could be anywhere — in or under the bleachers, in the parking lot, anywhere but across the street or in the school building.
A roar of excitement whooshed from the crowd as the Snitch runner dashed onto the field at full sprint, the Seekers in full pursuit.
While allowed at the college level, tackling is verboten here — but that doesn't stop 16-year-old Melody Mitchell from grabbing the runner's jersey and bringing him down like a calf to get the Snitch, nearly earning a disqualification.
The club hopes to invite the few Quidditch teams from throughout North Texas to a spring tournament.
"We probably look really dorky," junior Almond said, "but everybody has a great time."
Two teams face off on a 49½-yard field with six players each. Four balls are in play at any one time — a white volleyball called a "Quaffle" and three red dodge balls, or "Bludgers."
Players from each team battle for the Quaffle and try to score by tossing it through one of three upright hoops in their opponent's end zone. The hoops are guarded by a goalie, or a "keeper." Each successful throw through a hoop earns 10 points.
At the same time, opposing players called "beaters" try to pelt their foes with the Bludgers. A player struck by a Bludger must immediately drop the Quaffle and retreat to his or her own end zone before re-entering play.
Each team also fields a "Seeker," who waits blindfolded on the sidelines as a "Snitch runner" — unassociated with either team — hides somewhere out of sight. After 10 minutes, the Seekers remove their blindfolds and go in search of the Snitch runner as their teams continue trying to score.
Once found, the runner tries to elude the Seekers, who attempt to pluck the Snitch — a tennis ball in a sock — from the runner's waistband. All the players except the Snitch runner are required to straddle a broom, mirroring the flying wizards in Harry Potter.
The game is over when a Seeker claims the Snitch, earning the Seeker's team 30 points, which are added to the scoring total.